Eager Bolton aiming to set the record straight
Ask Emmet Bolton how he’s done against Dublin in the past and the answer isn’t one he has to go rummaging for.
“Never beat them,” he replies without a beat going by. “Never once at senior. Beat them at under-21 years ago and beat them well too. And we beat them last year in the O’Byrne Cup but I wasn’t playing. So I’ve never been on the winning side against them as a senior footballer. Been close but never done it.”
It’s a bracing thought, when you play it out.
Bolton is 27, has been an All Star nominee for each of the last three years and yet he’s never knocked a Jack on his back.
If it tells us anything, maybe it reminds us of Kildare’s actual place in the world order rather than the one we perceive them to hold. Year by year, we pin them as contenders but maybe we’re being unfair. Expecting too much of them.
That’s certainly how it looked when Cork frogmarched them off the premises in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final. After four successive years of exiting the championship in stone-cold thrillers that were never decided by more than a kick of the ball, Kildare were vaporised with a 13-point show of strength that day.
It left the idea of Kieran McGeeney’s side being a serious factor looking faintly silly.
Little wonder then that the turning of the seasons has seen McGeeney give the snow globe a fairly vigorous shake both beyond and behind the sideline.
The scene hasn’t completely settled just yet but it looks likely that there will be over half a dozen new faces in situ for the year ahead, to go with new selectors in the shape of Jason Ryan and Damien Hendy. Each new year looks different to what went before but this one feels even more so in Kildare.
“It’s extremely fresh there at the minute,” says Bolton, “with the two new lads in and a couple of lads gone out of the panel as well.
“There’s a load of under-21s after joining up who’ve been there for the last couple of weeks. The young lads have a great attitude and they’re very keen. So with everybody, there’s a real freshness at the moment.” Necessarily so?
“Well, it can be hard to see it from the inside when everybody is killing themselves to do their best and improve their own individual performance. It was going well for us and we were winning games last year.
“ We won Division Two, finally got into Division One and got that monkey off our back. You wouldn’t really see cracks when good things like that are happening. You’re going into the championship thinking you’re playing well but then the wheels come off against Meath.
“Even after that, we were winning games and it didn’t feel as if we were doing too bad. But probably on reflection, yeah, it might have gone a small bit stale. But we were playing average enough football and getting results. We thought come the quarter-final we would have been able to produce it but obviously that wasn’t the case in the end.
“We were getting results but we probably weren’t playing that well. And when you’re in the qualifiers and there’s games every week, it’s hard to address certain issues.
“You’re back training on the Tuesday and lads are only recovering after the game and getting over injuries.
“And then on the Thursday night, you can’t really do much before the Saturday game. We were going through the qualifiers and winning games but playing poorly. We still felt we were 100 per cent prepared and it was extremely disappointing the way it turned out. But now we’re coming in a lot fresher now than in other years with all the new faces.”
One such face is Ryan’s, drafted in by McGeeney after an impressive few years as Wexford manager. With Hendy tasked with the defensive side of things, Ryan will focus more on the attack and his enthusiasm and lateral thinking has impressed the players so far.
On his first night at training, he knew everybody by name – even the new recruits from the under-21s. Bolton noted it and saw what all the fuss had been about.
They start out in the league next Saturday night in Croke Park, theirs the job of forming the guard of honour for Donegal’s first appearance of 2013. The same Donegal they felt they had beaten in that epic All- Ireland quarter-final in 2011. The same Donegal that makes them think that maybe they’re not so far away after all.
First though, it’s tonight in Parnell Park for the O’Byrne Cup final against Dublin. A game that exists by itself alone, never to be spoken of after this weekend.
Kildare are actually playing in their third straight final in the competition so it obviously means something to them.
“It’s important,” says Bolton, “because you do a lot of slog in January and a lot of running and when you’re sort of counting time until the start of the league, getting good games like this works wonders. It’s better than a challenge match because there’s something to play for at the end of it.
“And especially for us who are going into Division One now and who have Donegal first up next week. For us to go into that off the back of playing Dublin in a final is going to be great preparation. It’s the perfect way to be going in, far better than any challenge game or training session.”
And if he sounds like he’s trying to talk it up, don’t forget his win-loss record against the Dubs. Correction: his loss-loss record. Couldn’t hurt to begin the year by putting that right.